Tuesday, September 23, 2014
Arsenal Second Halves By the Numbers

Arsenal Second Halves By the Numbers

Some of you may be wondering why I haven’t produced a By The Numbers column for either the Fulham match or the FA Cup match against Leeds (Leeds Leeds Leeds). Simply put, after watching Arsenal collapse in the second half against Fulham I didn’t feel like doing my normal schtick. You know the whole:

12 – Times I bashed my skull against the wall in my living room after watching Squillaci provide the headed assist for Bobby Zamora to score the winner

I kept looking at the data and trying to pull something out that didn’t make me want to bash my head against the wall and couldn’t find it. Zero shots on goal in the second half. Zero. So, what happened?

Well, we know that tactically Martin Jol made a change in the Fulham midfield and Arsenal found themselves outnumbered and unable to get the ball out of their own half. That partially explains the fact that Arsenal had 16 shots (9 on goal) in the first half and just 3 shots (0 on goal) in the second. But the more I looked at the data the more I could see that by every other metric Fulham dominated that second half, passes, possession, shots, tackles, everything.

Of course it’s easy to point at referee Lee Probert who objectively got both of the major decisions wrong* by not awarding Arsenal at least one clear penalty and by sending Djourou off for a non-foul. But blaming Probert masks the fact that from what I saw Arsenal came out in the second half “with the handbrake on”.

Wenger said that his team had dropped a bit physically against Fulham and I had noticed something similar in the previous match against QPR where Arsenal had only managed to complete 162 passes from open play in the second half. What I didn’t know was whether 162 passes was good or bad for Arsenal — my gut thought it was bad but I didn’t have any data to back that up.

So, I got in my canoe and paddled out to stat-island where I could be alone with all of the data from Arsenal’s first 20 games of this season. On stat-island I discovered fire and danced naked with my friend Wilson. Also, I settled on three data points that I thought relevant to telling the story of Arsenal’s first and second halves this season: tackles, passes, and shots.

Passes is a no-brainer: Arsenal rely on passing for both offense and defense.  Here I included only Arsenal’s completed passes from open play because only those passes help Arsenal retain possession which they use to attack and as a form of defense. Tackles, as used on the Guardian Chalkboards, includes aerial duels, ground tackles, and take-ons. Here I didn’t distinguish between successful tackles or unsuccessful tackles, I just wanted to know how many tackles the team attempted. This metric appealed to me because it can indicate work rate. If a team is making a lot of attacking dribbles, ground tackles, and challenging for balls in the air they are generally working very hard. Also, leaving off whether they were successful in that endeavor can help to mitigate the effect a referee can have on a game. Finally, I wanted to include shots, not shots on goal but just shots in general, because I feel that a team who are generating a lot of chances are working very hard.

All data (except the Index) courtesy Opta via the Guardian Chalkboards

As you can see I have color coded certain data points to indicate when Arsenal outperform their season average (purple) or underperform (red). You will also notice that I included two games from last season, Tottenham and Newcastle, at the top of the chart. These were there as tests of my “Index”. The index being a formula generated from an amalgam of Arsenal’s second half performance in each category compared to the season averages. Overall, I’m pretty satisfied with the index. Negative index numbers typically indicate that Arsenal played poorly in the second half and positive numbers show the opposite.

The Blackburn match is an anomaly there in that Arsenal were clearly working hard but went from a winning position to losing the match because they were unable to deal with Blackburn on set plays and scored two second half own goals. The first Fulham match is another oddball in that yet again Arsenal outworked their opponent and were undone by a second half own goal.

Now, take a look at the Chelsea match. What the chart shows is that Arsenal had one of their worst passing performances of the season in the second half but their second half tackle rate was the very best. Not only that but they also generated a decent number of shots in the second half. The index reflects this hard work with a +4 rating on Arsenal’s second half. Of course, Mr. Chelsea also slipped which gifted Arsenal a goal and so with a little luck and a lot of hard work in tackling +4 was all that was needed to turn an L into a W — which we see in the last column.

That brings me to the second Fulham match where Arsenal’s second half performance is just shocking, really. It was the worst of the season in terms of tackling, in terms of passing the ball, and in generating shots. That performance was so poor that according to the index it was worse than the infamous 4-4 draw with Newcastle from last season which is at the top of the chart.

The astute reader will notice that each of those worst games saw an Arsenal player sent off. This is true. The Newcastle game last season, the first three games of this season, and the Fulham match in week 20 all had an Arsenal player sent off. But notice the difference in the dip between the Liverpool and Newcastle matches that kicked off this season and the Newcastle and Fulham matches where the index is below -20.

There is no denying the effect that Dowd and Probert had on the two matches which generated the two worst second half index numbers. However, there is also no denying that Arsenal could have done more in that second half against Fulham to overcome the effect that Probert was having on the game. After all, Probert was the same referee in the first half of that game in which Arsenal managed to generate 16 shots and attempt 36 tackles. Arsenal only attempted 15 tackles in the second half of that game and if you don’t have the ball (Fulham dominated possession) you must work hard off the ball to win it back. Arsenal should have learned that from the Chelsea match, but apparently didn’t.

Those who look to the red card as a reason are similarly left without an argument. The games against Newcastle and Liverpool at the start of the season saw Arsenal more than make up for the loss of a man with decent hard work. Besides which, Djourou was only off the pitch for 16 minutes whereas Diaby was off the pitch in the Newcastle game for 40+ minutes.

Wenger blamed the loss on the team feeling jaded (and the referee) and perhaps that is partially true but there is also no denying that Arsenal played in that second half with what we have all come to know as “with the handbrake on.” A handbrake we all had hoped Arsenal had removed at the end of last season.

*Debatable Decisions has a five person panel who review all the major refereeing decisions in all the Premier League matches and vote on whether the call was correct or not. From that data they also produce a table that they call the Decisions Table which is a tally of all the decisions that have gone in favor of or against each team in the Premier League. Those of you who are looking to be angry with the referees will note that Arsenal are at the foot of the table and Stoke are at the top, meaning Arsenal are consistently being jobbed on referee  calls and Stoke consistently getting the benefit. Apparently, Stoke City will play how they want and the referees like it.

Qq

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52 comments

  1. the only sam is nelson

    *jaw drops in awe*

    brilliant

    thank you

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  2. Can we draw any conclusions from this concerning the reason for the lack of second half effort? Do we think this is (1) a tactical error on Wenger’s part, possibly a failure to adjust to tactical changes, or (2) player fatigue? In other words, if we had a say (which, of course, we don’t), how could we avoid this in the future? Thanks!

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    • Mike, difficult to say. You would want to look at rotation and how much other squads rotate as compared to Arsenal. You would also look at the quality of players that Arsenal are forced to play at times. And there’s also the well documented problem with the team switching off which is one of those things that teams at the top level can’t do. That needs to be addressed by the captain and the manager.

      I wonder if Robin van Persie has thought of that.

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    • Perhaps we can look at who came on in the second halves of each match, to see which players might have the best impact from the bench? My money would be on Benayoun having a good impact when we’re in a tight spot.

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    • I’d say it’s mostly player fatigue, it’s no coincidence that midfield is where Fulham screwed us and it’s in midfield where the players that never rest reside. I would however say that for the games last season (Newcastle especially) it was more a glass-jaw effect that let us be overrun, now we have players who CAN stand up to that we’re left with them being knackered as nobody else can be trusted, apparently.

      Also, nice post Mr. kickoff. Always interesting to see your usage of stats, they get a bad name due to the wild misinterpretations you see around but they can often illuminate things and help explain things you see but can’t quite put your finger on, good work.

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    • I made this point a little lower down the comments, but I’m not sure we can draw any conclusions about Arsenal’s 2nd halves from this. Are we assuming that Arsenal are generally worse in the 2nd half? Because the stats don’t seem to suggest this.

      According to the “index”, there are the same number of positive 2nd halves as negative (10 of each). This would mean that it’s 50/50 as to whether we play better or worse in the second half. So no conclusions can be drawn, surely?

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  3. Absolutely cracking analysis as always. Reading the decisions table the thing that strikes me (aside from wanting smash my head against a wall at the idea that a bunch semi-literate fuckwits such as Stoke are so well treated) is that the better performing teams are treated significantly worse than poorly performing teams. Certianly not what I would have expected.

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    • Joey Barton, Lee Catermole and Ryan “Compound Fracture” Shawcross are all “typical English” players, hard and physical.
      Johnny foreigner may not play “hard and physical” that is construed as foul play.
      Barton whould have been red carded twice for two tackles in the 10 minutes either side of HT in the infamous 4-4 draw. If he was foreign.

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    • Referees are favouring the underdogs. It seems emotion is influencing their decision-making rather than what is actually going on in front of their eyes. Very illuminating.

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  4. The problem is not fatigue. Its Aaron Ramsey. He is unable to control games. Our system is setup to create space and time for whoever plays in the deep striking role that Cesc used to play. Obviously the aim was to channel our play through our best, most creative player. Ramsey is more championship class than premiership level. The game gets decided in the second half of most matches. That means the opposing teams either sit back when at Ashburton or attack when we are away. Its the time when the Cesc position is vital. And Ramsey just doesn’t have it to take control of the game.

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    • Bit harsh. He could certainly do some work on his finishing, but how many potential assists of his have gone begging by absolutely abject finishing by others?

      Tim? Is it called ‘chance creation’?

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      • Thats the problem. ‘Potential assists’ are only missed because the quality of chances we have created has nose dived since we lost Cesc. This is reflected by the no. of goals we have actually scored. The chances are poorer so the finishing has to far superior. Furthermore the wing strikers (Gervinho, Walcott) are further away from the goal because the ball is slower to them. That allows defenders to reform and they literally have to beat the defender twice.

        Like it or not, Cesc used to lay chances on a plate by using the ball early and accurately. The ball now gets to Aaron and stops. The same thing used to happen when Denilson used to play. Thankfully Arteta (Wilshere before him), have solved that problem but the ball is now getting stuck higher up the pitch. Our system requires the midfield 3 to be very high quality. Aaron (maybe because of injury, or just vision, ability) is not at the level where you can afford only one striker close to goal.

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      • the only sam is nelson

        since we lost cesc, other players have perhaps thrived in a way that they might not otherwise have done. the current skipper being the most obvious example.

        similarly when TH14 went, so cesc stepped up.

        in other words, it’s complicated. lots and lots of things affect lots and lots of other things, and the temptation to believe that a quick purchase of a striker will cure our ills is understandable but off the mark. luck has a lot to do with it – we might not enjoy reflecting on it but when you consider the number of occassions during our unbeaten season where a decision went our way or we had a little slice of luck, then if we’re honest, we know that it’s not down to simple big factors. But lots of the bastards.

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      • WhoScored.com calls passes that create chances for others but don’t score a goal “Key Passes”.

        Players who create a lot of assists and have a high number of key passes are very valuable.

        Mathieu Valbuena is tops in Europe with 3.2 KPG and 9 assists, Juan Mata averages 3.1 KPG and has 7 assists (3rd best), Gareth Bale averages 2.9 KPG and has 6 assists, Ramsey is down at 51st with 2.1 KPG and 4 assists.

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      • Cheers for that.

        I’ve had a butchers at the site and Ramsey’s stats you mention put him 2nd in the team on key passes, behind Arteta and someone else I couldn’t find, on 2.2. Interestingly, Song also leads the league (jointly with Silva) for through balls per game.

        So I guess this supports the view expressed that the midfield collectively have stepped up to replace Cesc.

        And also that I’m taking a way too unhealthy interest in stats in my old age.

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      • Sorry Mark, that’s bollocks. I can picture all 3 of our starting strikers (yes, even RVP) not finishing off 1 on 1s with the keeper when Ramsey put a killer pass through.

        I sometimes think the rose tinted glasses on Cesc at Arsenal get covered in bullshit. At 20 (Ramsey only just turned 21) Cesc wasn’t creating better chances more often than Ramsey. It’s easy to remember him as slicker on the ball, but he didn’t have the work rate Ramsey does, and they’re both very good players in their own right – though Cesc is older, and grew up with more mature/better players around him.

        To pick one example out, YouTube Rambo’s U21 goal for Wales against Italy & then say he’s championship level.. Fabregas has never scored like that in his life!

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      • BTW I’m not trying to say Rambo is as good as Cesc currently or when he left us.. Clearly he’s got some way to go, but he’s also got 4/5 years of catching up to do. Didn’t get to all the points below before ranting; just think its a bit out of order ragging on Ramsey when the kid had class – plus (so far) loyalty & leadership qualities that Cesc never had.. Which I would think most fans put some value in.

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    • Mark, by potential assists I mean those that have been laid on a plate, so have been of the requisite quality, but have then been naused up.

      My sat-nav doesn’t include Stat Island, and the memory is going with age, but I seem to recall a few very decent passes by Ramsey thus far in the season that have created clear-cut opportunities which have not been converted.

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      • Not least of which the first time through ball right into Theo’s path which he managed to completely Aliadiere. The crazy thing as well is that the more the chances that he creates get wasted the more of an onus there is on him to get forward and get them himself, there’s a lot of pressure on him playing there and the sooner Wilshere gets back and we share the midfield berths around the easier it’ll get for everybody in there.

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      • Mooro, on that day QPR were playing very high up the pitch. The ball which Aaron played to Theo is exactly of the type I am talk about. Ramsey had that ball open to him the whole day. He played it only once. Thats the point.

        Theo was under tremendous pressure to finish it because that type of ball is so RARE now. Cesc used to find that type of ball at least 3 or 4 times a match against packed defenses who weren’t playing suicidal high up the pitch..

        And as 7amkickoff has pointed out, Aaron is NOT ready to for the first team.

        The problem is that Wilshere found his niche last year. He was fantastic taking the ball from his defenders under tremendous pressure and distributing it. I suggest Wilshere does not have the spatial awareness for that role either. So to throw in a potentially GREAT player like Wilshere in completely different role and expect him to sink or swim is very very dangerous.

        I hope Arsene buys a Gourcuff or takes Kaka on loan. Thats the kind of player Ramsey can learn from. We will not finish in the top 4 if Arsene expects Ramsey to be the creator.

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      • Mark, gotcha. I thought you were purely on about the QUALITY of the passes in your opener.

        I don’t disagree on the quantity (and quality obviously) that Cesc provided, but do think the burden is shared more between the midfield 3 now than it was then, which I think I’m right in saying sees us only behind the two Mancs in number of chances created in the league.

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      • @moro sorry, but have you seen Jack Wilshere at youth and reserve level? I’ve seen vids and actually seen him slice apart entire teams even though he has been the youngest player on the pitch, yet you say he lacks vision and passing, so I point you to a certain Carling Cup semi-final at home. I do respect your opinion of course, I just think you have not seen every thing, stats don’t always prove who has vision and who doesn’t, for example has anyone considered that Arsenal play a lot more in front of the defence this season? As opposed to making runs in behind.

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      • @ mark aswell for the above comment ^

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      • Edgooner4ever – I’ve not mentioned Jack at all. I happen to agree that he has got ability required to play the more advanced role.

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      • Gourcouf is too slow. Every time I’ve seen him play I’ve been thoroughly unimpressed with his speed and quickness. Obviously I’m not a professional scout, but to me he seems entirely too slow to be an effective player in the midfield. Couple that with his shitty attitude and I doubt he’d make a particularly good signing.

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    • No doubt cesc was amazing but we havent been particularly successful in the last 6 years (of which cesc was our main man in midfield). To now blame ramsey for not doing the same job cesc did seems pointless as even with cesc in there for 6 years we havent won anything. I personally feel Ramsey is a great player who will improve further and agree that we have more midfield players to shoulder the responsibility once placed solely upon cesc. I do feel that we are lacking up front. Apart from the genius of RVP were lacking goals and having Henry back for one game highlighted that for me. Just a bit of intelligence, movement and finishing is what were missing (when RVPs out or even to supplement him) .

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  5. Stunning piece of work. Nothing else to say.

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  6. Love this, good job!

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  7. Excellent article.

    One observation is that Arsenal were excellent in the first halves of both the Newcastle (last season) and Fulham (recent) games. This has the potential to skew the INDEX somewhat given it’s a metric based on relative performance in each half of a single game rather than on, e.g. a season’s average score for first half performance.

    I’m not trying to suggest second half performances in said games were anything other than very poor, just offering a thought on the analysis.

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  8. if there’s a problem between the first and second half performance by Arsenal, that means the team can’t play 90 minutes of intense concentration, which is bad indeed. Furthermore, I’m one who also believe neither Ramsey nor Wilshere can do the job as Cesc, no yet at least. Arsenal suffers a lot because of his departure and Theo suffers too as a consequences.

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  9. Brilliant Tim.

    I don’t know what else to say then to keep suggesting that we actually use the decent squad players we have in mid-field.

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  10. cesc was arsenals, best ever creative mid fielder, for people to compare ramsey and wilshere to him, expecting similar results is too much. time is needed!

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  11. I’m sorry to be rude but many arsenal fans need to grow up. Cesc is a gud attacking player but woeful in defending. Ramsey combines both. Ramsey lost almost 2yrs of his career to terrible injury wch Cesc neva experience. This guy is just getting back to shape. He can only get beta. Cesc is gone, Ramsey is wht we got, get behind him

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  12. “Of course it’s easy to point at referee Lee Probert who objectively got both of the major decisions wrong* by not awarding Arsenal at least one clear penalty and by sending Djourou off for a non-foul.”

    I looked at that website and by my count 3 of the 5 guys said the second yellow card for Djourou was correct. However, they still conclude that the sending off as an “incorrect decision!” Furthermore, none of those 5 are trained referees, just fans, as far as I could find on their site. Between the lack of qualifications and the loose accounting, everyone should take that site with a HUGE pinch of salt. It is an interesting project, though, so I plan to check back in at the end of the season.

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  13. Mark had it right- as of now Ramsey is championship quality at best

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  14. Fascinating article and some interesting and intelligent comments.
    Agree with dick swivellers prev comment and like to think stats can be illuminating with right interpretation.
    Disagree with mark’s comment that Ramsey can’t be considered prem class but it’s opened a decent debate. Would like to know if mark, you think he isn’t at the moment ( but could develop into ) or never will be? ( repeat for wilshere).

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  15. Let us try to argue less about Ramsey because the more we argue the more I feel he is not ready yet (maybe never). Some haven’t just accepted and wont until we end up in Europa League(God forbid). Even in Henry and Kanu’s time, I can remember matches where we fritter double figure of chances, but the midfield with their class keep plugging away and the strikers eventually gets it right. Adebayor missed sitters during Cesc’s time but the chances kept coming. Ramsey creates so little: pure and simple. And work rate is no excuse, it doesnt compensate for class, playmakers are not meant to be workaholics anyway. With all of Chamakh’s work rate against Leeds, all we needed was a moment of class from TH12. One shot at goal n a goal. Let us hope Wenger does the best for this team when Wilshere comes back. And I dont mean Wilshere will come to replace Ramsey either because as amazing as he is too, his finishing is not amazing. IMO, Wilshere and Song sits deep, while Arteta playmakes, as simple as that. Let us just hope Wenger’s famous loyalty to his ‘boys’ will not ruin our season.

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  16. thing is i believe ramsey works hard but seems not to have creative ability of cesc! fair how many mid-fielders possess cescs talent! whats important to figure out is if BOTH ramsey AND wilshere can learn the skills required to be effective.

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  17. love your work

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  18. Why not Rosicky for Ramsey? A midfield three of Song, Arteta and Rosicky can’t be worse than what we have now and the little Czech maestro still has a few final balls in him. Cesc was special, lay off Rambo

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  19. That Debatable decisions data is quite the eye opener too. Hopefully that means we’re in for some ‘green rubbing’ in the second half of the season. And Stoke city are in for some unjustified, corrupt officiating causing mass heartbreak and injury crisis’s. But somehow I don’t think that’s what the information suggests.

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    • It’s absolutely shocking, and what’s abundantly clear is that teams higher in the table get less decisions than those lower in the table. Arsenal, Man City, Man Utd. and Chelski all in the bottom 6.

      It really grates that Stoke fucking City of all teams are getting the most luck with decisions. If you look at their mocked up Premier League table, it’s even more unbelievable. With a bit more luck and better decision making, we could be 3rd. Stoke City would be 16th… instead they’re sitting pretty in 8th. 8 positions difference in the Premier League?! What the fuck!! Conspiracy, anyone?

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  20. 7amkickoff, can I ask what your conclusions are about Arsenal’s 2nd half performances, if any? If your index is accurate, then this season Arsenal have had the same amount of “negative index” performances as “positive index” (10 of each, unless I’m mistaken?) – so this would indicate that it’s dead on 50/50 as to whether Arsenal play better or worse in the 2nd half.

    I’m not trying to be negative here- I think stats can be very useful but I sometimes think we have a tendency to over-analyse.

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    • That’s a good point. I didn’t notice that. I also have to concede that Arsenal’s worst days all included a red card (4 reds already this season).

      I think, as others have pointed out, I would need to look at the data for all the teams to see where we stand. Unfortunately, that will mean I need to quit my day job.

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      • Oh man, that would be a lot of numbers to crunch!

        Thanks for the analysis, always makes an interesting read!

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  21. “Frimpong booked for taking out Bale. Wolves already parking bus.”

    Via BBC live update.

    And that’s why we love him :-)

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  22. to dare is NOT to do.

    any idiot like you (spurs) can dare. Sorry doing is for men only.

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  23. I don’t think Ramsey will ever be as good as Cesc, but aren’t the other midfielders (particularly Song) taking more of the creative burden than previous seasons? Song and Arteta are capable of key passes from deeper positions as we have seen this season.

    This allows the shape of the side to change fluidly to a 4-4-2 with Ramsey as a second striker in attack. He can play closer to the main striker and allow the players behind him to move in and occupy the space. Ramsey’s movement in the box is almost like a striker’s – he gets himself in really good positions and just needs to find his shooting boots again.

    I think Ramsey is probably being played too much and needs to be protected a bit more. He seems to have great games after a decent rest. He’s also made some good appearances off the bench.

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  24. Having a massive shit right now,

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  25. I think our needed backup striker is already at the club.

    It’s the guy that can’t make much sense of the game when given time and space, but when quick reactions and clever runs are needed, will carve up slow defenders. Theo Walcott of course.

    Let’s be honest, he’s a pretty average to poor winger. But as a on the shoulder, poacher up top ready to run onto Arteta and Rambos through balls, we could have two Theirrys at the club.

    We’ve got cover for him: Henry, Arshavin, Oxpott, Benayoun and obviously Gervinho when he’s back. Miyaichi is nowhere near ready for prolonged PL matches.

    As much as he infuriates as a winger with impotent crossing, a John Terry scaring striker would be LARVELY

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